Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Simulating smoke transport from wildland fires with a regional-scale air quality model: Sensitivity to uncertain wind fields

Authors

  • Fernando Garcia-Menendez,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
    • Corresponding author: F. Garcia-Menendez, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 311 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA. (fernandog@gatech.edu)

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  • Yongtao Hu,

    1. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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  • Mehmet Talat Odman

    1. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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Abstract

[1] Uncertainties associated with meteorological inputs which are propagated through atmospheric chemical transport models may constrain their ability to replicate the effects of wildland fires on air quality. Here, we investigate the sensitivity of predicted fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels to uncertain wind fields by simulating the air quality impacts of two fires on an urban area with the Community Multiscale Air Quality modeling system (CMAQ). Brute-force sensitivity analyses show that modeled concentrations at receptors downwind from the fires are highly sensitive to variations in wind speed and direction. Additionally, uncertainty in wind fields produced with the Weather Research and Forecasting model was assessed by evaluating meteorological predictions against surface and upper air observations. Significant differences between predicted and observed wind fields were identified. Simulated PM2.5 concentrations at urban sites displayed large sensitivities to wind perturbations within the error range of meteorological inputs. The analyses demonstrate that normalized errors in CMAQ predictions attempting to model the regional impacts of fires on PM2.5 levels could be as high as 100% due to inaccuracies in wind data. Meteorological drivers may largely account for the considerable discrepancies between monitoring site observations and predicted concentrations. The results of this study demonstrate that limitations in fire-related air quality simulations cannot be overcome by solely improving emission rates.

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